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The Lo-Fi Flaws That Define Our Favorite Old Games

Enhanced backwards compatibility and remastered editions often erase the weird, goofy charm of old games.

Rob Zacny

Screenshot courtesy of Capcom

This weekend I started playing the original Resident Evil again, using the remastered edition that Capcom released a couple years ago. I haven’t touched the game since I played it on my friend’s PlayStation all the way back in 1997, when he introduced it as the third or fourth exhibit in the case he was building for his console being better than our mutual friend’s Nintendo 64 or my own aging PC.

“In addition to greater third-party support, which you can read about here,” he said (and I kid you not, he actually had a couple issues of EGM and GamePro folded open to the relevant passages), “the PlayStation can do FMV and has more mature, more realistic games.”

If you remember that original edition of Resident Evil for the PS1, you know exactly the kind of breathtaking, hard-cut contradiction I was about to encounter between my friend’s estimation of Resident Evil and the game as it actually existed outside the mind of a console war Jacobin. The vaunted FMV was a grainy fever dream in which a group of hair models were menaced by a group of rubber dog masks in what looked like a municipal park.

And then we got into the main game itself, with its awkward scene blocking around clunky 3D models and legendarily bad voice acting. It was onion-like in its layers of camp, and I was cracking up by the time we got to the first zombie reveal.

Yet there was something undeniably compelling about the game after you got past the cheesiness of these early scenes and made allowances for Resident Evil’s poor translation and frustrated cinematic ambitions. Resident Evil was a game that I would find myself laughing at, and then for a few minutes the campiness would fade away and I’d find myself frozen in terror, scrabbling at the controls trying to get into a room with a save point before something killed me.

The version of Resident Evil I’m playing now isn’t the one I remember, even allowing for the vastly improved visuals. And it’s almost certainly more faithful to the original Japanese release’s tone and intent, since so much of what gave Resident Evil its quirkiness was a mangled localization. Nevertheless, I find myself slightly affronted every time a perfectly harmless piece of incidental dialogue has replaced a famous line-reading catastrophe.

I miss the version of Resident Evil I’ve kept in my head all these years, the one that played such a key role in a series of friendship-ending arguments over game consoles. I miss it the same way I miss the way adventure game would hitch as you’d hear the CD drive spin-up, heralding your successful completion of a puzzle or a newly unlocked conversation option. I miss all the odd, immersion-shattering ways that games could struggle and fail in their efforts to achieve more than the technology and infrastructure of the time could really support. There was an earnestness to that awful US version of Resident Evil that perfectly fit its time and context.

What are your favorite examples of jank or camp in games? What flaws do you find yourself nostalgic for when it comes to game from your past?

Let me know in today’s open thread!